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New Georgia Hospital's Helipad Will Save Time

VALDOSTA, Ga. — Minutes can cost a lifetime.

At times, even a short delay can mean the difference between life and death. Having faster access to a lifeline is critical.

Before the end of 2012, that access will be enhanced for patients at South Georgia Medical Center when the new $225,000 helipad becomes operational. Emergency helicopters, commonly referred to as LifeFlights, will be able to land directly at the hospital, close to the entrance of the emergency department, to transport patients to other facilities.

Bill Forbes, chief planning officer, says that currently patients needing a higher level of care must be put into an ambulance and transported to the Valdosta Regional Airport to be placed on a helicopter.

“By bringing the helicopters directly to the hospital, it gives our patients access to the care they need that much quicker,” Forbes said.

Level One Trauma Centers in Macon and Atlanta, as well as specialty facilities such as Shands in Gainesville or Jacksonville, Fla., are generally the destinations for patients whose illnesses or injuries fall outside the scope of the services offered at SGMC.

Forbes said Augusta’s burn center is often a destination, but added that Augusta typically sends its own planes rather than helicopters because they can travel greater distances.

The helipad foundation has been poured across a small parking lot close to the emergency department, and Forbes said some realignment will also take place to ensure that patients can be transported quickly and safely to the helicopter.

The helipad is 88-by-88 feet with a six-foot concrete slab to accommodate both the wingspan and the weight of the aircraft.

“It can handle a 10,000-pound helicopter,” said Forbes, “and all of the transport services in the region have said that is more than adequate for their needs.”

SGMC does not own or operate the helicopters, which are private transport services.

“They bill insurance, Medicare and Medicaid just like we do, and they also experience some losses,” he said.

The services are based within a 50-mile radius with none currently in Valdosta, but Forbes said there is some discussion about a company locating at the Valdosta Regional Airport in the future.

Forbes said that although SGMC would accept in-coming patients if necessary, typically patients are flying out, not in. The hospital has considered upgrading to a Level One Trauma Center, but the expense of the added services that must be in place to do so has so far made that cost-prohibitive.

It will still be several weeks before the helipad becomes fully operational as Forbes said there are numerous regulatory issues associated with it.

“We are working with the FAA (Federal Aviation Association) because we have to have two clear flight patterns, one for incoming flights and one for outgoing. We also have to have special landing lights, radio frequencies, etc.”

Forbes said bringing the flights directly to the hospital is a patient-safety issue for SGMC.

“It will enhance the care we can provide for our patients.”



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